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This Is Possible: A short documentary about bringing the world into the classroom

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Tonight, it was my privilege to deliver the commencement address for Haywood Early College.

EdNC has been embedded in the early college since Principal Lori Fox emailed me for the first time in 2020, and I realized just how much I had to learn from her and the students and faculty.

Along our journey together, the papermill in Canton closed, and I ended up spending much of 2023 in Haywood County. Last spring, one of the seniors at the early college received an acceptance to Harvard.

It made me want to make sure that all of our public school students see that “This Is Possible.”

Thanks to filmmaker Robert Kinlaw, we were able to bring this story to life.

Here are my commencement remarks and the documentary. Join us as together we bring the world into the classroom.

My name is Mebane, and all you need to know about me is that I travel. I have been to all 100 counties in North Carolina, 47 states, and 35 countries around the world.

If you could see all of the schools and community colleges I have visited, what you would come to know and learn and find is that this early college, this community college — you are at the best of the best.

Both have unparalleled leadership and faculty — committed, devoted, feeling called to provide innovative, rigorous instruction day in and day out.

Supported by unparalleled leadership in your community. You have watched your school, college, and community leaders lead crisis after crisis.

This community leadership has real impacts on people, for instance in supporting and sustaining wellness during crisis as well as on the future of this place. Collectively they brought in more than $70 million to invest in the Haywood County of the future after the closing of the paper mill was announced.

And these leaders in this school, at this community college, and in Haywood County see you, the next generation of leaders — and they know you will go on to lead and change this community, our state, our country, and our world. 

They see you as the thinkers, designers, and communicators of our future on the global stage.

They know change moves at the speed of trust, and they trust that you will continue to choose to lead both now and in the years to come, here and abroad, wherever your travels take you.

Institutions of higher education around the country see your leadership too. In the past five years, the Haywood Early College scholarship dollars have increased from $330K to $3.1 million.

I have been studying this early college since 2020: the leadership, the instructional practice during the pandemic when student performance here actually improved, the integration of technology and the designation as an Apple Distinguished School, and best practices in change management in good times and bad.

Individually and collectively, you are inspirational, and I am proud of you — Principal Lori Fox, President Shelley White, the faculty, and most importantly each and every student, each and every family.

You are one pack with one goal: To change the world.

Join us on a journey designed to ensure these students — and all students across North Carolina — see themselves as the leaders of our collective future.

This IS possible.

Mebane Rash

Mebane Rash is the CEO and editor-in-chief of EducationNC.

Robert Kinlaw

Robert was director of multimedia for EducationNC. He is a journalist and award-winning documentary filmmaker in the Triangle. Robert attended both public and private grade schools in North Carolina and graduated from the Media and Journalism school at UNC-Chapel Hill. He has produced video content for The News & Observer, ABC11-WTVD, UNC-Chapel Hill, The News Reporter and more. His short documentary Princess Warrior received an Excellence in Filmmaking award at the 2017 Carrboro Film Festival. Visit his website at